Congratulations to Fun Home, the play based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel that won Best Musical at the Tonys last weekend and finally closing the loop on a comic book EGOT! WOO WE’RE LEGIT NOW! Between Dark Knight‘s Oscar and Grammy for Heath Ledger and its soundtrack, this Tony win and Mariette Hartley’s Best Actress Emmy for The Incredible Hulk (really dug deep for that one), comic-based things have now been recognized in every medium, and that’s not really something you can say for many other fandoms. Like fantasy, for example – sure, Lord of the Rings won an assload of Oscars, but every time Zeppelin were up for a competitive Grammy they got robbed.
This week in comics: dry British wit! Punk British scumminess! Trippy American weirdness! A whole pile of universal mehness! Wait, no. Mehciprocity! But first: surprises!
Junior Braves of the Apocalypse #6 (Oni Press)
I think this comic succeeded because of my skewed expectations. I saw this and thought “oh neat, a rule 63 Lumberjanes clone,” figuring there would be a healthy dose of Boy Scout-inspired camping hijinx with broadly drawn teenage stereotypes. You know, the kind of thing that a book trying to cash in on a craze would do, where they get the broad strokes but not the fine details that make the original so entertaining. Well, I was completely wrong. I was stunned at how good Junior Braves of the Apocalypse was as a pure zombie horror story. Yes, zombie horror.
I personally hit my zombie saturation point around 28 Weeks Later, one of the most highly praised, incredibly stupid movies I’ve ever seen. Since then, it’s taken a really special zombie story to get me to do anything but roll my eyes and ignore. Junior Braves of the Apocalypse hits all the high points of the genre and manages to have interesting characters to distinguish it from most of the other undead pablum floating around. Zach Lener’s art is very effective. Before I even realized what was going on, his linework and faces and the black/white/green color scheme gave the sense of ominous dread. It’s almost…sinisterly cartoony? The faces and anatomy are slightly exaggerated on the normal humans, and the “mutants” are grotesque and malformed exactly as you’d want them to be.
Michael Tanner and Greg Smith manage to write teenage banter without making it stilted or on-the-nose, and they hit a lot of zombie tropes without feeling stale at all. This is a rock-solid zombie story with honest, realistic teenagers and great art, and I realize now that I could have figured all of that out from reading preview material, but because I am a shallow idiot who literally judged a book by the bottom half of its cover, I managed to preserve a surprise for myself. Hooray!
You can pick up Junior Braves of the Apocalypse #6 online via Comixology.
Weirdworld #1 (Marvel Comics)
In probably the most shocking plot twist since I started writing this column, I will be buying the living shit out of a swords and sorcery comic written by Jason Aaron and drawn by Mike Del Mundo.
This is my favorite thing about these big crossovers – when Marvel or DC says “sure, whatever, it’s not like we have to keep publishing it after the event is over,” and parades all of their weird, hidden back catalogue characters out on the off chance that one of them hits. Aaron has proven to be one of the most versatile writers working on big comics today, with books ranging from an insane crime book like Southern Bastards to light teenage comedy in Wolverine and the X-Men. He moves between styles with such ease, and it’s truly impressive that he can make characters feel realistic and diverse in so many different genres. Pairing him with Del Mundo, who draws the best covers in all of comics and matches that with some incredibly beautiful, creative layouts in his interior work is an amazing idea. Honestly, even if this book was just Aaron dropping peyote and reading old Arkon appearances over the phone to Del Mundo, letting him translate Aaron’s trip to the page, it would probably be incredible. Shit, that’s not really a qualifier, is it? I would read that in a heartbeat.
|Dark Circle Comics|
The Fox #3 (Dark Circle Comics)
Two weeks in a row with Mark Waid working on an old-school character. I’m sensing a trend here.
The Fox was one of Archie’s first cape revivals that led to the creation of their Dark Circle line, and it was a lot of fun. This new volume has a Steve Jobs-esque character as the head supervillain in Impact City who puts a bounty out for the title character, a photojournalist by day and powerless crime fighter by night. Paul Patten, the Fox’s civilian identity, is a veteran cape in this story, and he’s got a slightly crotchety lilt in his dialogue that makes his dialogue really entertaining to read. Waid does a good job of peppering the story with “I’m getting too old for this shit” and “get off my lawn”- type jokes, but never gets too over the top with them, keeping Paul from feeling too grumpy old mannish. He’s got a deep, crazy, themed rogue’s gallery that Waid and Dean Haspiel (co-plotter and artist) are starting to turn into one of the classics.
Haspiel’s art is a great match for this story – timeless and energetic and vibrant, like if Bruce Timm was drawing comics in the early ’70s. The Fox’s villains are all bright and colorful, without a lot of menace but all with very fun designs. If you haven’t jumped onto any of these Dark Circle books, but you’re looking for something a little bit on the light side, this is a great choice.
Marvel Zombies #1 (Marvel Comics)
I’ve been excited for this since word first came out that Spurrier was getting his hands on Elsa Bloodstone, and it’s finally here! One of the most interesting things about Battleworld is the entire walled-off southern area of the map, where Doom apparently saved whole swaths of the Negative Zone, the Marvel Zombies world, and the Earth from “Age of Ultron” and he just lets them go at each other. Elsa Bloodstone was one of the standout characters from one of my favorite Marvel comics of all time, Nextwave, so I’m inconsolably psyched to see her shredding cannon-fodder with dialogue from one of the most dryly funny writers working in comics.
There’s a lot to like about this series – if you’re a fan of the original Marvel Zombies stories, you get some time back in that world with a sense of importance to a larger narrative. Kev Walker’s art is always good, going back to old Dredd 2000 AD stuff and through his Marvel oeuvre. But when Spurrier says “…fans of my Doctor Nemesis will, I hope, fall as madly in love with her as I have,” well…you just sold me on it, Si.
Constantine: The Hellblazer #1 (DC Comics)
The preview for this was rough in a good way, a neat little play on expectations. If you haven’t taken a look, it’s worth checking out – it’s got a Brit-punk vibe that was missing from his earlier New 52 appearances, AND it’s got John being an utter scumbag. You figure Constantine would have swooped in and saved the damsel in distress, so when he left the bartender to die after exposing her to the demons hunting her, there were quite a few “oh shit”s being thrown around my apartment.
Doyle and Tynion are both solid-to-great writers (I’m really psyched to fawn over Memetic at Flamecon this weekend) with an interesting-seeming take on the character that will hopefully be a bridge between the old Vertigo version and the sanitized New 52 one. My first look at Riley Rossmo’s art besides this preview was in Rat Queens, which I just finished this weekend (and is hilarious, go buy them all please), and he’s a great choice for this book. I’m looking forward to checking this out.
The Mantle #2 (Image Comics)
Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmeh. I wanted to give The Mantle a chance because practically speaking, every new comic from Image has a better-than-average chance of being really good. So I tried the first issue, and it wasn’t bad, but it was trying to be too cute for a book that was so average. It’s about a group of superheroes built around an energy manipulator who is hunted by
Mongul a giant with plague powers and super strength. The Plague has been hunting incarnations of The Mantle for what’s said to be a very long time, and every time he kills one, the power of The Mantle is passed to a new user. The average life expectancy of someone who inherits that power is two years or so, and it’s rapidly decreasing. Brisson’s dialogue in issue 1 tried to be casually meta, but it just came off as proud of itself. But there was a twist at the end that was just enough to make me check out the next one.
It didn’t get better. The Mantle is just so pointedly bland that I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to care about. It might be me; the book just might not connect with me or be what I’m looking for in a comic. I like to think that I have a pretty broad taste in comics and that I do an okay job of judging a story for what it’s trying to do rather than what my personal tastes are. But there’s not really a good/bad axis that all comics land on. It didn’t make me angry or anything (like that stupid Shadow comic), and it’s competently made, but The Mantle is just an aggressively generic, tedious read.
ONE THAT GOT AWAY
Every week there are way too many comics for me to read and keep track of. So in every column, I’m going to take a look at a book that came out in the last few weeks, but that I only just had a chance to read.
This week it’s An Entity Observes All Things, a book I was disappointed to discover was NOT the memoirs of Jaquen H’ghar, agent of the Many Faced God, but a collection of sci-fi shorts from Box Brown. He’s probably best known for his Andre the Giant bio comic (which I shamefully have yet to read, but which was almost universally praised). Most of the stories are quick little vignettes of strange worlds, with emotional impacts ranging from touching and melancholy in the vein of Eternal Sunshine to gently absurd light comedy. Brown’s art is more angularly geometric than I’m used to, and the story “New Physics” is probably the standout, a sharp burn on the cultiness of social media where his design sense is the most bizarre. It drifts a little bit towards the end of the story, like it’s missing its punchline, but it’s still really good, as is the rest of the book. OH! Maybe it is the memoirs of the Many Faced God – if all beings are merely earthly facets of the omnipresent Many Faced God, then this could be a future history of Westeros, a factual retelling of things that will have already happened thousands of years down the road in the Seven Kingdoms and Essos. From what I saw here, they’ve almost completely eradicated the teen rape/murder problem that plagued their early society, so congratulations everybody!
That’s what I’m reading this week. What are you picking up?